Catch and Release

What's Barotrauma?

Every angler will encounter a time where they have to or choose to return the fish they caught back to the water due to regulations or personal preference. It is your responsibility to know the catch limits and minimum sizes for the fish you may encounter - If you don’t know, let it go! Here are things to keep in mind to ensure that released fish survive to support healthy, sustainable fish communities.

Catch and Release

On Target

Do your homework on the species you may encounter and figure out what equipment you’ll need to bring.

  • Knowing how to target the right size and species reduces the need to release in the first place.
  • Select a tackle and net that matches the size of your target species. Reduce fight time as to not over exhaust the fish.


Always bring extra hooks and line, a net or cradle, long nose pliers, wire cutters, jaw spreaders, and rubber gloves.

Barbless is Best

Non-offset, non-stainless steel, barbless circle hooks are easier to remove, quicker to self-shed, and minimize injury to you, your catch, and other protected species.

fishing tool
Cool Tools

Bring dehooking and recompression tools to facilitate the release process and minimize the effects of barotrauma for deeper water species.


Not Worth The Trouble

Skip handling altogether by releasing the fish in the water with a dehooker.

Chill Out

Wait for the fish to calm down before handling it. Give yourself and the fish time to recover from the stress of the fight.

dripping fish
Keep 'em Dripping

Wet your hands before handling a fish. This preserves the protective slime on its skin, which is crucial for its ability to fight infections and swim post-release. If you must, wear rubber gloves, but steer clear of cotton towels and gloves.

One Picture is Enough

Limit handling time and air exposure to under 20 seconds. Even better, take the picture while holding the fish right over or in the water.

Get a Net

Use a knotless rubber net with a large mesh when landing a fish to minimize fin fraying, mucous loss, and skin abrasions. Using a net instead of your bare hands also prevents injuries that may result from dropping.

arrows point to the bottom of a fish
Get a Grip

Depending on its size, hold the fish with one hand behind the gill plate/pectoral fins and another at the midsection/tail.

Right Side Up

Hold the fish horizontally to avoid placing stress on its internal organs or dropping it.

Not Cool


Never gaff a fish you plan to release.

fish on a hook

Never suspend a fish by its mouth or lips

fish being thrown out of a boat

Never throw a fish overboard. Release it gently in the water.

a fish with two way arrows underneath

Never move the fish around in the water, which damages their gills. Simply hold it into the current.

The Hook

Snip Snip

If the hook is buried deep, cut the line as close to the hook as possible and release it. Its life is worth more than the hook.


Be Gentle

Lower the fish gently into the water and hold it into the current, allowing water to pass through its gills. Cradle it until it swims away by itself.

Helpful Links

a fish on a hook underwater


Barotrauma (“pressure shock”) is the expansion of gases in a fish’s swim bladder and other body cavities that prevents the fish - typically a snapper or grouper - from swimming back down after release. This incapacitates them and can be fatal if not properly addressed.

When you pull up a fish from a depth that is below 30 feet, you may see indicators of barotrauma, such as bulging eyes, sluggish swimming, a bloated belly, or a protruding stomach from the mouth.

To increase the survivability of a fish suffering from barotrauma, return the fish into the depth of capture as quickly as possible with recompression tools (ex. descender devices, release weights, and release baskets), which are required on board when fishing in some areas. This recompresses the swim bladder and re-establishes the fish’s equilibrium. If rapid descent is not possible, use a venting tool to release the gases in the fish’s swim bladder, allowing it to swim back down into the depths by itself. NEVER use a knife or puncture a fish’s protruding stomach.

This descender device mechanically releases the fish when the it hits bottom. Photo taken from video: NOAA Fisheries

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